The well-ordering principle states:

**The well-ordering principle:** Any nonempty set of nonnegative integers has a smallest element.

*DUH, you don't say!* - seems obvious, doesn't it? This principle is, nevertheless, a very important and fundamental tool for proving other basic principles of number theory.

Consider, for instance, the Division Algorithm:

**The Division Algorithm:** If `m` and `n` are integers with `n > 0`, then there exist integers `q` and `r`, with `0 <= r < n`, such that .

Again, this is so basic that one may doubt whether it should even be proved. But the well-ordering principle allows us, in fact, to prove the division algorithm in a rigorous manner:

Let . It is obvious that `W` contains nonnegative integers. Let . *By the well-ordering principle*, `V` has a smallest element, which we'll call `r`. , so for some `q` and `r >= 0` (by the definition of sets `W` and `V`, correspondingly).

Now, what's left to prove is that `r < n`. Let's assume the opposite, namely that . Rearranging: . By the definition of `V`, (since it has the form for some integer `t` and is nonnegative). But recall that we called `r` the smallest element of `V`, and , so we have a contradiction.

Therefore, we see that `r < n`. This completes the proof. *Q.E.D.*

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